Old Soldiers / by Erin Wade


For the past decade we have been an Apple household. Among the reasons for this - and one that continues to surprise me - is the longevity of these machines. I may have mentioned before that my first Mac, a 2005 Power PC Mac Mini, continues to soldier on as our media server, a decade after I bought it and several years after it reached the end of its service as a work machine.

The Mini was replaced by a late 2006 iMac, which served for several years before being placed into retirement as a machine for my daughter to use for school. Still, longevity and all aside, it appeared over the past year that the iMac had finally reached the end of its useful life. It was having trouble running for any significant period of time without locking up, and varying white lines across the display suggested to me that the graphics card was on its way out. It was set off to the side, and replaced with a lightly used and well-cared for 2012 MacBook Air that I purchased from Dan Benjamin at the 5by5 Podcast network.

By "set it off to the side" I essentially mean literally that. It sat, for months, on the floor beside my desk, waiting for me to have the time to decommission it by wiping the hard drive and sending it off to the recycling center.

I finally got around to it over the weekend before Thanksgiving. I dragged the Snow Leopard disk out of one of my drawers-o'-technology, and used disk utility to do a secure wipe of the hard drive. Done right this takes a while, and I let it run for several hours (and overnight) while I did other things.

When it was done I noticed that, while running off of the install disk, none of the white lines appeared. This, despite the fact that it had been running for hours. Given this, I went ahead and did a clean install of Snow Leopard just to see what I'd get.

The iMac has been running more or less continuously since the Sunday before Turkey Day, a full two weeks now, with only a brief interruption due to a power outage. The screen is free of artifacts. Essentially, it appears that the machine itself was fine, it just needed a clean install to recover from nearly a decade of continual use.

Of course, now this leaves me wondering what to do with it. Its operating system is several generations behind (10.6.8 vs 10.11 for El Capitan), and it doesn't have some of the bells and whistles of the newer systems like Handoff, for example. However, a little exploring after the clean install finds that it does, for example, run the iWork suite just fine through iCloud.com (though, ironically, I had to install Google Chrome to do this). So, it could serve as a backup desktop system for now, I suppose, while it waits to take its turn as a media server when (if?) the Mini finally shuffled off.